In wake of Amazon tragedy, Stuart and Hoffman announce formation of warehouse safety standards task force

Illinois Correspondent

THE PARENTS OF AUSTIN McEWEN, 26, one of six Amazon warehouse workers killed when a tornado ripped through the company’s warehouse in Edwardsville, Ill. Dec. 10, 2021 filed suit against the anti-union, e-retail giant, alleging Amazon failed to provide a safe working environment and kept workers on the job long after they should have been evacuated. – Jeff Roberson/AP photo

Edwardsville, IL – A new task force focused on worker safety will begin work in Illinois following the deadly collapse of an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville during a tornado.

State Reps. Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville) and Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea) led an initiative to create a Warehouse Safety Standards Task Force, which will develop recommendations to make warehouses and similar workplaces safer in the future.

An EF-3 tornado struck the Amazon warehouse on Dec. 10, 2021, and there were no storm shelters to protect the workers. The walls and roof collapsed under 150 mph winds, and six workers ranging in age from 26 to 62 were killed. Five of the six workers were independent contractors sheltering in a bathroom on the south side near the loading dock.

“Everyone should have the right to a safe and healthy working environment and to return home unharmed at the end of each shift,” Stuart said. “However, recent events have shown that more is required to ensure that warehouse workers are not subjected to avoidable hazards and that their employers are held accountable for meeting acceptable standards of health and safety.”

That’s why they created the task force, Stuart said.

“I’m hopeful that by closely studying the issues unique to the warehouse industry, we can improve the safety of workers, reduce injuries and potentially save lives,” she said.

Hoffman pointed out that Illinois has seen a lot of warehouse development in recent years, and leaders need to make sure they are safe workplaces. Amazon’s replacement warehouse is under construction and allegedly has no additional shelters or safety features to distinguish it from the previous warehouse.

“The tragedy at the Amazon warehouse was a devastating moment for our community, and those who were impacted remain in our thoughts,” Hoffman said. “It’s our responsibility to thoroughly review what happened and take action to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again.”

The task force will consider questions about regulations and building codes that might need to be updated to force warehouses to prepare for similar severe weather incidents. Representatives from Labor, business, local government, the state legislature and the Illinois Department of Labor will be involved.

A TORNADO RIPPED THROUGH the Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Ill. Dec. 10, 2021, killing six employees. Their families allege Amazon failed to provide a safe working environment and kept workers on the job long after they should have been evacuated. – Jeff Roberson/AP photo

On the federal level, U.S. Rep. Cori Bush (D-Missouri) has repeatedly challenged Amazon’s response to the tornado disaster. She serves on the U.S. House Oversight Committee and has introduced two bills strengthening protections during climate disasters or extreme weather. One would prevent workers from being fired for seeking shelter during disasters, and the other would require that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration create a wind safety standard similar to the heat safety standard.

Bush also co-signed a letter with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) demanding answers, but in April 2022, OSHA issued a hazard alert letter requiring Amazon to review emergency procedures and closed the case. Amazon did not face any fines or penalties.

The families of two of the workers killed in the disaster have filed wrongful death lawsuits against Amazon.

The task force is expected to provide quarterly reports and a report on final recommendations no later than Jan. 1, 2025.

The task force was initially proposed under state House Bill 1563, but was passed and signed as part of a larger package in Senate Bill 1720.


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